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Parishes feel the chill as winter bites and heating bills soar

16 December 2022

Norwich cleric creates map of more than one thousand warm spaces in the UK


The churchwarden Mike Beard at Christ Church, in Lower Broadheath, Worcestershire, which has been running a warm hub since October

The churchwarden Mike Beard at Christ Church, in Lower Broadheath, Worcestershire, which has been running a warm hub since October

SEVERE weather in many parts of the country combined with anxiety over the rising cost of living this week, as churches wrestled with higher heating bills while also striving to respond to the needs of their communities.

Heavy snowfall in East Sussex on Monday made hilly roads impassable, leaving motorists stranded and forced to abandon their cars. The Rector of Burwash, Burwash Weald and Etchingham, the Revd Thomas Pelham, and several of his parishioners, were among those coming to their rescue.

‘In my Father’s house are many mansions, and all of them are warm’

He told the BBC: “I really feel that the communities in my parishes have once again risen to the occasion, and I was delighted to be able to help stranded cars up the hill, alongside a number of residents, some who have lived here a long time, and others very newly arrived. I know that on the other hills in this area, other groups of helpers were aiding stranded traffic, so we weren’t alone.”

Mr Pelham offered his own home as a refuge, but the Bear Inn took in all 40 stranded people, giving them food, hot drinks, and the warmth of log fires. One of them is reported to have described the gesture as “biblical”.

Warm spaces also proved their their worth as temperatures plummeted. Christ Church, in Lower Broadheath, Worcestershire, opened up as a warm space in October, and has been gearing up to take as many people as want to come. The churchwarden, Mike Beard, has reported that many of the regulars stay all day, with one observing that without it, he would be sitting in a cold home, “all wrapped up”.

Jason Baldry, an IT specialist and a staff member of St Thomas’s, in Norwich, has created an online map of warm spaces around the UK for those in need. The figure now exceeds 1000, with new listings coming in at speed after the drop in temperatures.

He told Norfolk Live: “There are other organisations specifically helping to resource people running warm spaces. What I’m doing is just the tiniest tip of an iceberg of communication from those who just don’t know where to turn next. . . It’s a desperate time.”

He further reflected that warm banks “cannot be normal, cannot be what we expect. It also sometimes feels like we are creating a map in response to loneliness, in response to what people might need for their mental health, to gather with people.” The church has formed partnerships with many community organisations, and is currently an English+ donation point for Tesco gift cards to give to refugees and asylum-seekers this Christmas.

The congregation of St Peter and St Paul, Shepton Mallet are encouraged to bring blankets and cushions to church in the cold weather to supplement the heating system both in the church building itself and in the church hall, which the Rector, the Revd Jonathan Hunter Dunn, acknowledges to be “not all that it might be”.

The church would like to have offered a warm space, but decided instead to support the Salvation Army in the town centre, with whom they have enjoyed a long-standing relationship over many years, especially as supporters of the foodbank it runs. They continue to support it with donations of food, but decided also to add cash towards heating and lighting and towards enabling the foodbank to buy items not donated.

The money has come out of the annual giving. “Our facilities just aren’t great. We could offer a warm space building, but it wouldn’t be as effective as the Salvation Army can offer in the centre of town,” Mr Hunter Dunn said on Wednesday. “It’s recognising that you can’t do everything, and if your facilities don’t lend themselves, then do something else.”

Churches are being urged to review the condition of their buildings as the cold weather begins to take effect. The risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, Jo Whyman, said on Wednesday, “Every year, we are contacted by customers who have unfortunately suffered damage to their property as a result of the cold weather.

“The damage can result in significant disruption to church activities, and the cost of repairs can be significant. Proactive maintenance measures will help avoid potentially more costly repair bills in the future, and help ensure planned church activities are not disrupted as a result of avoidable property damage.”

Burst pipes top its list of cold weather advice, as one of the most common issues. It points out that one small fracture can release many gallons of water, damaging masonry, plaster, and contents, and advises ensuring that water pipes are well lagged; the boiler and heating system is regularly serviced, and the frost thermostat checked for correct working.

“If you discover a frozen pipe, don’t wait for it to burst,” it warns. “Turn off your water supply and then slowly thaw the affected pipe with the gentle heat of a hair dryer, space heater or hot water bottle.” Trapped rainwater may crack or shatter the down pipe if it freezes, it further warns, advising, “Check valleys, gutters, hoppers and downpipes for blockages so that they can carry water away quickly and efficiently.”

Should the main church heating system fail, it recommends electric convector or fan assisted heaters with thermostatic cut-outs used as a temporary measure: “Don’t ever use electric radiant heaters or paraffin/oil fired heaters, and portable heaters should be sited well clear of woodwork or other combustible materials . . . don’t leave temporary heaters unattended for long periods.”

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